In any large organization, how well their product or service helps their customers will fuel the core of their business, but how well their internal structure works is crucial to achieving that level of quality. More specifically, in the world of sports and business, communication and team cohesion are of utmost importance.
Both of these worlds are becoming increasingly multicultural and multilingual as technology connects us more and more. In the current world, the United States has an edge in the sports market — but to keep it, they will likely need to draw on lessons from Europe and the rest of the world. As our work lives become increasingly international and diverse, companies all around the world will need to bulk up their language muscles in order to maintain their competitive advantage.
Why language skills are crucial to company performance
Internationalism and multiculturalism are already the standard in many major European franchises, particularly in the world of soccer. To that end, studying the successes of major European coaches like Jupp Heynckes, winner of four Bundesliga titles with globally-recognized soccer leagues, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, can illustrate how important team language skills can be.
According to a 2014 article published in the International Journal of Cross Cultural Management, teams whose coaches had strong intercultural experience and applied that approach to team management saw more success. As Heynckes says himself, language and communication skills were crucial to that equation:
“Particularly as a coach abroad, I have learned that communication, respect, and sensitivity are crucial for the success of a team. Simply hard training and good preparation cannot establish a top team. Intercultural dialogue is just as important as [soccer] talent.”
As the article explains, the European “Big Five” soccer leagues (England, Germany, Italy, Spain, and France) are already composed of 35 to 60 percent foreign-born players, percentages that seem only to be increasing. This recruiting trend is showing up increasingly in American sports leagues as well, with the NBA leading the way and the NFL exploring international markets, such as Mexico and China.
In short, managers like Heynckes, who took a multicultural and multilingual approach to their teams, saw better team performances, which then led to more wins and titles, which in turn means more tickets purchased and more sponsorships earned for those successful franchises. With this in mind, success cases like Heynckes’ are an instructive model for innovative American leagues to follow as well.
How language skills can foster psychological safety
In sports, as in business, innovation can be the key to outperforming competitors and bringing creativity and perspective to old problems. Even so, figuring out exactly how to foster and nurture an innovative culture within an organization can be challenging — particularly in a highly-diverse environment where many different languages are spoken.
According to research published in 2017, work environments that view one language as “standard” and others as “non-standard” can create in-group biases and negative outcomes for team cohesion and performance. One way to understand this effect is that language bias creates an environment that lacks psychological safety. On the other hand, work environments that are interculturally fluent seem to avoid these problems.
The concept of psychological safety is all about the importance of feeling safe to take risks without judgement — and is recognized by an entire body of research as a crucial foundation for successful innovation. Although both business and sports can be characterized by outward competitiveness, that fierceness and exclusivity need not be present within internal communication. In fact, when team members feel respected and can communicate themselves fully, their performance improves.
The cost of not improving your teams’ language skills
While American sports leagues like the NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL made approximately $35 billion in 2020, they lagged in terms of international reach (with the potential exception of the NBA) compared to the English Premier League and La Liga. Meanwhile, recent market research shows the fastest-growing regions in the global sports market will be Asia-Pacific and the Middle East in the coming years — areas that have an advantage when it comes to cosmopolitanism.
As the world of sports becomes increasingly multilingual, teams that fail to adapt to international competition will miss out on an ever increasing market share. Like anything else, team communication and language skills are muscles that require regular training. Fortunately, Babbel for Business offers forward-thinking sports teams a tool to get the very training they need to sharpen these skills and compete in the sports world of today.
Find out how you can empower your team with language training here.
Lea Naschberger, Content Project Manager
Lea is an expert in HR topics such as employee benefits or corporate learning. She believes that multilingual teams are the key to success.